Tuesday, a report written by the company proposing the world's largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery was released by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County, Washington. The proposed fossil fuel refinery is controversial because of the impacts on both local residents' health and our climate. Despite the company's claim that the refinery could result in a climate benefit, the refinery would consume a stunning amount of fracked natural gas—one-third as much gas as the entire state of Washington.
"There is no way to make the world's largest methanol refinery look pretty. The project is dangerous, harmful to our health, and locks in decades of fossil fuel use," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.
A 2016 study by the Stockholm Environment Institute concluded that Northwest Innovation Works' proposal could increase overall global greenhouse gas emissions and is likely inconsistent with a low-carbon future. Last year, Northwest Innovation Works lost a lawsuit that required the company to evaluate the lifecycle greenhouse gas impacts of the methanol refinery. The report, released Tuesday as part the project's environmental review by local governments and Washington State, underestimates the refinery's greenhouse gas impacts: the report relies on cherry-picked studies, outdated information and highly speculative assumptions to frame the project as a win-win for climate and business.
"Governor Inslee understands the dangers of fracking and fossil fuels," said Cecile Gernez, conservation organizer with the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter. "Now is the critical moment for our governor to call out this fracked gas refinery for what it is: a dirty fossil fuel project."
Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity faulted Northwest Innovation Works' report because it:
- Underestimates both the the amount and the potency of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, that would be associated with the Kalama facility due to increased fracking. The company ignores or downplays multiple comprehensive studies finding a significantly higher methane-leakage rate than the report relies on and, in turn, underestimates the climate impacts of extracting and transporting the gas that will be processed at the facility. The report also relies on outdated metrics that underestimate the climate-disrupting impact of methane.
- Fails to properly evaluate the climate impacts of fracking if the company relies on fracked gas from the U.S. rather than Canada in the future. The report primarily assumes that Northwest Innovation Works will purchase gas from British Columbia for the lifetime of the project, ignoring shifting gas markets and plans for more gas pipelines from the Intermountain West to serve Pacific Northwest markets. Furthermore, the report underestimates the amount and greenhouse gas potency of U.S. gas.
- Relies on highly speculative assumptions about global methanol markets and China's use of coal-based methanol production. The report relies on a series of questionable assumptions about global methanol markets, energy commodity prices, Chinese government policy, and U.S.-China trade relations to conclude the project results in a net climate benefit.
- Does not properly account for the greenhouse gas impacts of methanol as a fuel source, a probable use of the methanol produced in Kalama. An April 2017 China Daily article quotes We Lebin, the chairman of the Kalama project's parent company, saying that the plant's output could "replace diesel, coal and gas with methanol to power vehicles." Lebin doubled down on the claims in a December 2017 Reuters article, saying that, "[the company] also wants to drive use of methanol as a transportation fuel for cars and ships." Yet the report does not analyze the greenhouse gas impacts of using the facility's methanol as fuel in comparison to non-fossil alternatives such as electric vehicles.
"The report spills a lot of words trying to justify polluting our air, risking our health, and taking private property to make petrochemicals to send to China. We're hopeful that Washington leaders choose a brighter future over this dirty plan," said Marrene Jenkins, a retired nurse and Kalama resident.
"This massive refinery would be a disaster for the climate, public health, and wildlife that rely on clean air and water," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The last thing we need is another fossil fuel project spewing pollution into our environment."
In addition to climate and health impacts, the methanol refinery would require a new pipeline to carry fracked gas. Landowners on the pipeline route have already received notice that the company can use eminent domain to take their land.
The Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County will hold a public hearing on Dec. 13. The Port of Kalama, Cowlitz County and the Washington Department of Ecology have authority to deny the project.
The good news: You can protect our climate and the Columbia. A critical public comment period is open now on the supplemental environmental review of the Kalama fracked gas-to-methanol refinery.
Protect the Pacific Northwest from new mega-fracked gas infrastructure by submitting a comment today!
By Dan Serres
As highlighted by the article Why Does Climate Change Matter to the Columbia?, we are in the the fight of our lives to stop dirty fossil fuels and transition to clean energy. The good news? You are making a difference right now. As activists, you have a tremendous impact on greenhouse gas pollution in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past decade, you defeated the region's largest fossil fuel proposals. From stopping liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments on the Lower Columbia River, to blocking mind-blowing quantities of coal exports, to persuading Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to deny North America's largest oil train terminal, your efforts register on a global scale.
Together, we have helped prevent:
- Coal — more than 132 million tons per year, destined to travel through the Columbia River Gorge in dozens of mile-long coal trains, to ports in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
- Oil — more than 760,000 barrels per day shipped in "bomb trains" to new or expanded oil-by-rail terminals in Oregon and Washington.
- Fracked Gas — more than 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas per day (more than Washington and Oregon combined use in a day), by defeating pipeline, power plant, and LNG terminal proposals. And we continue to fight projects in Kalama and Port Westward that would use or export another 640 million cubic feet.
Altogether, you helped stop 471 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year. That's almost four times the carbon pollution of the Keystone XL pipeline, and more than seven times Oregon's total in-state greenhouse gas pollution. Incredible! Not only did you take a stand for our climate, but you made a difference for clean air and water as well. Fossil fuel projects pose tremendous safety and toxic pollution risks to millions of people across the Northwest. When we fight fossil fuels, we are fighting for clean water and healthy communities.
Together We Are Strong
To win against powerful coal, oil and gas interests, we must work together with allies. Riverkeeper engages with community activists from eastern Oregon and Washington all the way to the mouth of the Columbia River.
People may fight dangerous fossil-fuel projects because the projects harm local businesses, water resources, forests, farms or public safety. We are fortunate to work with firefighters, fishers, foresters, farmers, health professionals, educators and union leaders who see fossil fuel risks in their communities and stand against injustice. Whether seeking to protect critical salmon habitat, the safety of schools near rail lines, or a stable climate for our children, we seek common ground and a path away from dangerous fossil fuels. We strive to learn from one another and stand in solidarity across traditional political boundaries.
We also salute the incredible work of Columbia River tribes that stood up to coal exports and oil-by-rail. Several tribal nations presented rock-solid arguments to state and federal decision-makers on the dangerous impacts of coal exports and oil-by-rail. According to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission:
[Our] opposition stems not only from the climate effects of continued fossil fuel use, but also the present danger of transportation risks. Continued reliance on fossil fuels would have long-lasting, harmful impacts to the environment and the natural resources upon which tribal cultures are based. This alone is reason enough for opposition to expanding fossil fuel transport through the region, but adding in the risk of catastrophic environmental damage from spills and derailments and the correct course of action is even more obvious.
We are honored to work in solidarity with these tribes to protect the Columbia from the perils of oil-by-rail and other dangerous fossil fuel projects.
The Battle Continues
Linking Grassroots Power to Expert Advocacy The "Thin Green Line"—the Northwest's remarkable effort to block fossil fuel expansion projects—is driven by everyday people who take time to connect with their friends, neighbors, and public officials.
Riverkeeper works to link these people with one another, empower them with technical information, and fight for their rights in the courtroom.
The fight continues. Fracking companies desperately seek outlets for their climate-disrupting methane. Two massive fracked gas-to-methanol refineries proposed in the Lower Columbia River would consume nearly as much fracked gas as the entire state of Oregon. Meanwhile, shippers of tar-sands crude are eyeing the Lower Columbia River for outlets for oil that is so thick and polluting, it sinks upon spilling, a huge threat to salmon recovery in the Columbia River.
As the backers of the Millennium coal terminal continue to litigate over a rejected coal export scheme in Longview, Washington, the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board upheld the Washington Department of Ecology's denial of a necessary water quality permit for proposed Millennium coal terminal, affirms that DOE acted validly to protect the water, land, air and people of Washington from harm.
The Columbia River has two futures. The first: a superhighway for fossil fuel exports—oil tankers, refinery smokestacks, flares and piles of coal eight stories high—enriching multinational corporations.
The second: strong, healthy communities and thriving local businesses united by clean air, clean water and sustainable salmon runs. Thank you for choosing clean air and water. When it comes to the onslaught of fossil fuel infrastructure on the Columbia, the actions you take in your community have global climate impacts.
What Can You Do to Help? Take Action.
Tell Washington State Gov. Inslee to "Oppose Kalama Methanol Refinery!" The world's largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery threatens our safety, river, climate, and private property rights! Act now!
Is Sunrun the best option for solar panels on your home?
If you're considering a solar panel installation, chances are you've come across the name Sunrun. A lot of literature exists on this leading residential solar panel installer, but research can be overwhelming, so we're breaking down everything you need to know in this Sunrun solar review.
As one of the nation's top solar companies, Sunrun focuses on installing custom-designed solar arrays and backup battery systems, and installations are performed quickly and easily by the provider's massive fleet of technicians. Sunrun also offers a solar leasing program that's popular among customers.
|Sunrun Fast Facts|
|Service Areas||22 states and territories, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, HI, IL, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, PA, RI, SC, TX, VT, WI, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.|
|Service Types||Solar panel and backup battery installations|
|Types of Panels||High-efficiency monocrystalline panels from top solar suppliers like LONGi and Costco|
|Backup Battery Options||Brightbox Home Battery storage, which uses lithium-ion batteries like the Tesla Powerwall and the LG Chem|
|Certifications||Solar Energy Industries Association|
Better Business Bureau
|B+ with accreditation|
Read on to learn more about the provider, or to see if Sunrun is available in your area and get a free quote, fill out the 30-second form below.
Founded in 2007, Sunrun's mission is to create a world run by solar energy. Since 2007, Sunrun has expanded at an impressive rate, now offering services in over 20 states as well as Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.
Sunrun designs solar panel layouts custom to a roof's shape via satellite imagery, giving homeowners more control over the appearance and efficiency of their systems. The company's integrated home solar battery storage service, Brightbox, sets it apart from the many other providers that have yet to deploy storage options that bring a number of key benefits to solar customers.
Sunrun also provides a wide variety of solar financing options for its customers. Catering to a large client base has allowed for Sunrun's massive growth, but it's also presented challenges that have soured the company's reputation online. The BBB gives Sunrun a rating of a B+, which is lower than the average solar provider.
Sunrun Solar Services and Installation
Sunrun is a comprehensive solar installer, providing design and installation of custom solar solutions complete with backup battery storage, home energy monitoring and energy control during outages. These tools can help homeowners manage, store and monitor their home's energy use for additional savings on their electric bills.
The types of panels and inverters Sunrun offers come from brand names like SolarEdge, LONGi and Costco. They are ideal for the quick and easy installations that Sunrun prides itself on. An average customer could expect the installation process to look like this:
- Receive a free quote by providing preliminary information such as your address, monthly energy costs and credit score.
- If interested after receiving the quote, a Sunrun sales rep will provide a detailed proposal including your custom system design, appearance and estimated energy savings over the course of the system's lifetime. The proposal should include any local and state solar incentives, so be sure to make note that any are included.
- Once you've decided on the custom system that fits your needs, you will need to complete paperwork and obtain permits and approvals. Sunrun will handle the permits and approvals from your presiding city or county, but you should expect this process to take a few weeks.
- During the permitting process, Sunrun will also check for net metering programs through your utility company and will enroll you if eligible.
- Once all permits and approvals are gathered, Sunrun will install your system. With Sunrun's resources, this will likely be the easiest part of the entire process.
- Finally, you'll need to pass inspection and turn on the system. Once the system is installed, both the city and your electric company will most likely require inspections. Sunrun will handle the logistics of both. Once these pass, a customer will be able to turn the system on.
Solar Panel Warranty
All Sunrun installations, whether leases or purchases, are covered by the Sunrun Guarantee. This 10-year comprehensive warranty includes free equipment replacement and system repairs, covers all parts and labor costs and guarantees that roof penetrations are watertight.
Sunrun advertises free maintenance, repairs and insurance on its products, but it should be noted that those services are only available to customers leasing panels through Sunrun. Any customers who have purchased panels from Sunrun will be held to the product warranty of the panels they purchase (typically between 12-25 years). As such, all warranty claims will be handled through the panel manufacturer rather than Sunrun.
Sunrun Costs and Financing
The cost of a solar system from a particular provider is difficult to estimate, as pricing can vary widely depending on your state, your roof and your home's energy needs. As Sunrun has been an industry leader for some time, most other solar providers actually offer installations at a slightly lower cost to give them a competitive edge. This is just another reason we encourage our readers to get quotes from competing solar companies.
Much of Sunrun's expansion can also be credited to its utilization of solar leases, which allow homeowners to rent solar equipment from Sunrun at a monthly cost. Though leasing panels provides immediate energy savings with a low upfront cost, purchasing panels provides the greatest value long-term. Keep in mind that leases will not be eligible for the solar tax credit.
Solar Financing Options
Sunrun offers four different solar plans for its customers.
- Monthly lease: This option requires the least money down but also provides the least overall value. Sunrun retains ownership of the panels and you make monthly payments to purchase the energy they generate. The monthly payments are guaranteed to be less than what your utility payment would be, but the savings are not as great as they would be if you purchased the panels.
- Full lease: In a full lease, the customer pays Sunrun an upfront fee to rent the panels for around 25 years (the term of the lease can vary). Sunrun retains ownership of the solar equipment. This saves a customer more money than a monthly lease, but it's still significantly less than if a customer purchased panels.
- Monthly loan: Customers can receive a solar loan from a third party to fund the purchase of solar equipment. These loans require monthly payments and typically have a payback period of between five and 10 years. In a monthly loan, a customer still owns the system outright, which adds to their property value, allows them to claim the solar tax credit and provides greater long-term energy savings than a lease. However, they will pay interest on the loan, making the system more expensive.
- Full purchase: A full purchase is the most recommended method of investing in solar energy. When customers purchase panels, they buy the system designed by Sunrun outright. Immediately, the solar panels add property value and the homeowner is eligible for the solar tax credit. Over time, homeowners will see a larger return on investment when paying in cash.
Sunrun Solar Reviews
Sunrun's size is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness, and most customer reviews reflect just that. Positive Sunrun solar reviews praise the company's speed and ease of installation, yet a high employee turnover rate, communication troubles and growing pains have plagued a number of customers who feel their needs were not met.
Positive Sunrun Reviews
The size and resources of Sunrun make its business model reliant on high volumes of installed solar panels. Positive reviews usually reflect a quick and easy installation with immediate energy savings and little to no maintenance or further customer support needed. Most frequently, these positive reviews come from customers who opted for a solar lease rather than ownership.
Here are a couple of examples:
"I originally had my Solar installed by another company that was eventually purchased by Sunrun. The service with Sunrun has been far better than the service with the previous company."
— Brian Schopf via Trustpilot
"We have had our Sunrun system in place for over a year now. No problems at all. They were very courteous and responsive during the installation process."
— Peter W via BBB
Negative Sunrun Reviews
Most of Sunrun's negative reviews stem from a lack of attention to a customer's needs. Sunrun is one of the nation's largest solar providers, which presents challenges for customers troubleshooting issues with their system's performance.
Solar panel issues can be difficult to troubleshoot, and the size of Sunrun's client base can make the company's customer service department more difficult to get in touch with than a smaller solar provider.
This Sunrun review reflects the overall sentiment from dissatisfied customers:
"Worst company ever for follow-up once you have a problem… I have been waiting for a new inverter [for] seven months. No one bothers to tell you what they are going to do, or what they have done once they finally get to your house for a repair. No written report to update you. I have lost money this year because my system is either not running or is underperforming."
— Linda T via BBB
Final Thoughts on Sunrun Solar
Sunrun's mission, size and breadth of services make it one of the most well-known solar providers in the country today. However, its B+ BBB rating and poor reputation for customer service may make some buyers wary. An average customer experience with Sunrun will depend greatly on the quality of the sales representative assigned to your area, and many homeowners have run into bad experiences.
|Sunrun Pros||Sunrun Cons|
|Expansive service area||Expensive labor|
|Backup battery services||Frequent customer service issues|
|Free maintenance on leases|
|Flexible financing and lease options|
Sunrun is a good and practical choice for customers looking to quickly and simply save money on their energy bills through a solar lease. However, for homeowners looking for attentive customer service both before and after installation, we advise you to shop around. You can start getting free quotes from a number of solar installers near you below.
Solar Energy Provider Comparison
To put this Sunrun review in perspective, let's compare the company to a few other national providers. Sunrun typically ranks highly in services offered, service areas and flexible payment options. Where Sunrun unsurprisingly falters is in its reputation for customer service and BBB rating.
|Sunrun||Blue Raven Solar||SunPower|
|Services Offered||Solar panel installation, battery installation, monitoring, maintenance||Solar panel installation, monitoring, maintenance||Solar panel installation, battery installation, monitoring|
|Service Areas||AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, HI, IL, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, PA, RI, SC, TX, VT, WI, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.||CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MO, NC, NV, OH, OR, SC, TX, UT, VA||All 50 States|
|Payment Options||Cash, loan, lease, PPA||Cash, in-house financing plans||Cash, loan, lease|
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Sunrun a legit company?
Sunrun is a legitimate solar installer leading the industry in quantity of installs and breadth of products offered. Hundreds of thousands of homes across the country have installed solar power with Sunrun. Though Sunrun is legitimate, there is a concerning amount of bad reviews regarding Sunrun's customer experience. Often, unconcerned sales staff can make customers feel their business was not taken seriously.
Is Sunrun solar a good deal?
As is the case with most solar providers, getting a good deal is dependent on many factors. Sunrun is certainly capable of providing customers with a solar energy system that saves them money, but a better deal might be found by a different solar provider, especially if you are looking to purchase panels rather than lease from Sunrun.
Is Sunrun owned by Tesla?
Sunrun is not owned by Tesla. In fact, Sunrun is one of Tesla's biggest rival companies in the solar industry. Unlike Sunrun, Tesla solar offerings focus more on products and less on installation services, so the companies are distinctly different.
Which is better, SunPower or Sunrun?
Which company is better will depend on what the customer is looking for. If you're looking for customer service, a high BBB rating and to purchase high-quality panels, we'd likely recommend SunPower over Sunrun. If you're a customer looking for a quick and easy solar panel lease to save a small but guaranteed rate on your energy bill each month, Sunrun may be the better choice.
Where is Sunrun available?
Sunrun is available in 22 states and territories, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
By Miles Johnson
Why does a river organization like Columbia Riverkeeper dedicate so much energy to fighting fossil fuel projects?
First, fossil fuels threaten clean water. Think oil spills, pipelines that degrade salmon streams, coal dust in the river, and aerial deposition of mercury from coal-burning power plants. But we have additional motivation to fight fossil fuel infrastructure: climate change is harming the Columbia River and our communities right now. And giant fossil fuel corporations want to build more infrastructure—pipelines, fracked gas refineries, shipping terminals—to lock our region into continued reliance on dirty energy. Together, we are taking a stand to protect clean water and our climate.
With each victory over fracked gas, oil and coal, we are protecting clean water and our climate. This article explores four (of the many) impacts of climate change—salmon in hot water, extreme heat waves, fire danger and streams running dry—harming the people, animals and plants in our region right now. In addition, the article describes scientists' projections of future impacts. Our work is urgent and full of hope. By defeating fossil fuel infrastructure today, we support the rapid transition to clean energy, which will increase prosperity in the Pacific Northwest.
Four impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest:
Salmon in Hot Water
The mighty Columbia River is synonymous with salmon. When tribes alone inhabited the Columbia River Basin, as many as 30 million salmon returned to the river each year. Despite significant declines, these salmon runs hold tremendous cultural and economic value for tribes and other river communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. While we struggle to restore the Columbia's imperiled salmon runs, climate change is warming the river, making it even harder for salmon to survive.
Salmon leaping of Lyle FallsColumbia Riverkeeper
Salmon need cool water. Warm water encourages disease-causing bacteria and fungi, delays salmon migration and depletes salmon's energy reserves. How warm is too warm? Adult salmon have difficulty swimming upstream when water temperatures approach 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Salmon that have stopped or slowed their migration, and languish for days or weeks in warm water, begin dying from stress and disease before they can return to their home streams to spawn.
Average summer water temperatures in the Columbia River have steadily increased over the past 60 years, and will only get hotter if climate change intensifies. Fifty years ago, the Columbia was too hot for salmon migration for only a week or two during the very peak of the summer. Now the Columbia frequently remains above 68 degrees Fahrenheit from mid-July until mid-September, making salmon migration during that time difficult or impossible. The Fish Passage Center, a federal science agency, explained that "under a climate change scenario, the long-recognized and largely unaddressed problem of high water temperatures ... becomes an ever-increasing threat to the survival of salmon in the Columbia River Basin."
That threat became a stark reality in the summer of 2015. Roughly 250,000 adult sockeye salmon, including 96 percent of the critically endangered Snake River sockeye run, died prematurely in the Columbia and lower Snake because the rivers were too hot. Though it's convenient to call 2015 an outlier, climate scientists predict that the air and water temperatures that killed so many salmon in 2015 will become increasingly common.
To protect salmon, we must stop burning fossil fuels. In addition, altering and removing dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers can help solve water temperature problems. The Columbia and Snake dams create large, shallow reservoirs that trap the sun's heat and warm up the rivers. If we operated the dams differently, and removed the lower four Snake River dams, we could directly address the hot water crisis that threatens salmon survival.
Free the Snake 2015 by Ben Moon for Patagonia
Across the Pacific Northwest, hotter days and nights are growing more common. Climate change will increase the intensity, frequency and duration of extreme heat waves during the summer, with dangerous consequences. Heat kills more people in the U.S. in most years than floods, tornadoes or hurricanes. Our region's cool, rainy reputation leaves many people unprepared to deal with extreme temperatures and heat waves.
The Pacific Northwest—like many other parts of the world—has seen record hot spells in recent summers. Climate change has already doubled the frequency of heat waves in some regions. And more extreme heat is on the way, even if we substantially reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions. Government scientists predict that heat waves in the Pacific Northwest over the next 30 to 60 years will be roughly twice as common as they are now and last twice as long. Summer temperatures that would have been extreme in the 1950s will become commonplace in coming decades, and we will see more record-high temperatures.
Extreme heat waves are dangerous. Heat is among the top weather-related causes of death in the U.S., responsible for an average of 1,500 fatalities per year. One recent study in Washington state found a 50-percent increase in heat-related hospitalizations during summers with serious heat waves. Residents of the Pacific Northwest may be at particular risk, even though heat waves here are less severe than in other regions. Many Oregonians and Washingtonians don't think of heat as a health risk, may not know the signs of heat stroke, and may not have access to air conditioning. A nationwide study found that "areas along the West Coast showed very high vulnerability [to heat waves], even though their current climates are temperate.
Like many other consequences of climate change, extreme heat waves will cause the most harm to the most vulnerable members of our society. Because urban areas collect additional heat, elderly and poor people living in large cities face the greatest risks. Older people tend to be less resilient to the physical stress of prolonged heat waves. And in the Pacific Northwest, where many homes lack air conditioning, low-income communities may not have access to, or the ability to pay for, relief from the heat.
Residents of the Columbia River Gorge and the Portland metro area won't soon forget last summer's Eagle Creek Fire: weeks of smoke and haze; road closures; evacuation alerts and vacant downtowns in Gorge communities that usually bustle with summer visitors. And while we had it bad, the deadly fires that ravaged California communities later in 2017 were downright catastrophic.
Across the nation and the globe, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Large wildfires in the U.S. currently burn more than twice as many acres each year as they did in 1970, and the average wildfire season now lasts two-and-a-half months longer. Less snow, earlier snowmelt and warmer air temperatures—all linked to climate change—lead to the hot, dry conditions that boost fire activity. Warmer, drier conditions also make fires harder to put out.
The Pacific Northwest's forests will be especially susceptible to wildfires as our climate changes. In Oregon and Washington, the mountains of the Cascade and Coast ranges traditionally have wet winters and relatively cool summers, leading to infrequent forest fires. But if the average temperature increases by one degree Celsius in this region—including the Gorge—the number of acres burned each year could rise by more than 400 percent. In the forests of northeastern Oregon, the number of acres burned each year could increase by more than 500 percent.
While we fight climate change, we'll also need to change the ways we manage and live with wildfire. Old ideas about wildfire suppression should be discarded; immediately putting out every forest fire, no matter the location, is incredibly expensive and allows dangerous amounts of fuel to build up over time. Forest management, like thinning around rural communities, may play a limited role. But powerful timber corporations and elected leaders should not use fire danger as an excuse to increase clearcutting and salvage logging that harm water quality, fish and wildlife.
Streams Running Dry
Washington, Oregon and Idaho are famous for beautiful, wild rivers and streams. The Wenatchee, Yakima, Deschutes, Clackamas and Selway—just to name a few in the Columbia Basin—evoke a powerful connection and sense of pride for many Pacific Northwest residents. We boat, fish, swim, and draw drinking water from our many rivers. Properly restored, these streams can once more support healthy salmon runs. But only if there's enough water to keep our rivers and streams flowing.
Climate change threatens to decrease water levels in western rivers, especially during the summer. Most surface water in the West comes from snowmelt, but snowfall is declining and projected to decline faster if climate change continues. With less snowmelt to feed rivers throughout the summer, and warmer air temperatures increasing evaporation, many rivers won't have much water left in the summer and fall. Some streams in the Columbia Basin may run dry altogether.
In response to declining snowpack, some suggest building new dams to trap rainfall and spring runoff. But dam construction would sacrifice the very rivers we seek to protect and restore. We already live with the legacy of thousands of large and small dams throughout the Columbia Basin. Dam construction is the past; dam removal and healthy, free-flowing rivers are our present and future.
One Columbia Basin stream already facing acute water shortages is Fifteenmile Creek. From its headwaters in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the creek flows into the Columbia River near The Dalles, OR, and provides an important spawning area for threatened steelhead. Fifteenmile Creek receives about 70 inches of precipitation each year—mostly as snowmelt—but irrigation already competes for scarce water in the summer, sometimes running the stream dry and killing young fish. Further decreases in snowfall and precipitation could push this imperiled population of steelhead over the brink of extinction.
Hope for a Brighter, Cooler Future
The threats from climate change are real and daunting, yet we see reasons for hope all around us. The Pacific Northwest is combating climate change by refusing to host coal and oil export terminals and by decreasing our reliance on fracked gas for power. Instead, your voice is driving a transition to clean, renewable energy and setting an example for the rest of the U.S. and beyond. Together, we can protect the Columbia Basin's people and places from the worst impacts of climate change while protecting clean water.
Report: Fracked Gas Project Could Undermine Washington’s Clean Energy Goals https://t.co/ecmCpLdYxJ @foodandwater… https://t.co/MjaiDBJS2Y— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518042305.0
Miles Johnson is senior attorney at Columbia Riverkeeper.
- Dams and Climate Change Threaten American Rivers ›
- Alaska River Melt Betting Tradition Now Part of Climate Record ›
By Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky
Bill McKibben is right. Last summer, the co-founder of climate change organization 350.org penned a Rolling Stone article titled How to Tell If Your Reps Are Serious About Climate Change. One way to tell, said McKibben, is if "[t]hey understand natural gas could be the most dangerous fuel of all."
A new report from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) on a controversial fracked gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in Washington state confirms McKibben's assertion: the Kalama methanol refinery will not help us achieve a low-carbon future or meet the goals in the Paris agreement. According to the report, approving the Kalama methanol refinery "would not appear to be consistent with globally agreed climate goals of keeping warming at less than 2 degrees Celsius."
The Kalama methanol refinery—the largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery in the world—would cause the equivalent of 3.7 to 7 million tons per year of CO2 pollution, based on 20-year global warming potential. That's over half the carbon footprint of the massive coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Washington. When the Centralia coal plant closes in 2025, the Kalama methanol project would become Washington's top contributor to climate change.
Backed by the Chinese government, a company called Northwest Innovation Works proposes to refine fracked gas to liquid methanol on the banks of the Columbia River in the Twilight-famous town of Kalama, then ship the methanol to China to produce olefins, a chemical building block for plastic.
The new report casts doubt on claims that the Kalama methanol refinery would replace coal-based methanol production in China and thus benefit the climate. Researchers found that the Kalama facility is just as likely to displace more common—and less emissions-intensive—methods of making plastic. This means that "that the facility would be just as likely to increase global GHG emissions [from other sources] as to decrease them."
Researchers also found that the Kalama methanol refinery could result in emissions that are two to six times higher than estimates in the final Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS"). That's largely because the EIS left out emissions involved in supplying fracked gas to the methanol refinery. "The new analysis provides an opportunity to fix that, and consider all emission impacts in the supplemental review," said SEI senior scientist Peter Erickson, a co-author of the report.
Last fall, a Washington state hearings board ruled that the final EIS was illegal, siding with Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Earthjustice. The board ordered a new EIS that fully discloses the methanol refinery's climate impacts. A comment period for the new, climate-focused EIS is open now through Feb. 28. Click here to send in your comment.
The report should be an eye-opener for Washington Governor Jay Inslee; it allows the governor and all Washingtonians to see the true climate cost of this project. Inslee is a leader in the fight against climate change, as demonstrated by his bold commitments to the Paris agreement, state carbon reduction goals, and the introduction of a carbon pollution tax in the Washington legislature. Now Inslee can take a stand against the Kalama methanol refinery and new fracked gas infrastructure that would add stunning new greenhouse gas pollution right here at home.
World's Largest Methanol Refinery to Be Built Along the Columbia River https://t.co/eBDDBgXsMI @1stnations @tarsandsRESIST— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1479940807.0
Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky is the senior organizer of Columbia Riverkeeper.
By Brett VandenHeuvel
Pruitt has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued the EPA to weaken environmental protections. It seems appropriate, then, that the first lawsuit against Pruitt could compel him to addresses the real impacts of climate change today. That's why we are in court, asking a federal judge to compel Pruitt to protect salmon from hot water—before it's too late.
Salmon need water cooler than 68°F for long-term survival, but the Columbia and Snake Rivers routinely exceed 70°F in the summer. And the water temperature continues to rise as our climate heats up. Low snow pack and record heat are becoming the new normal. For the Pacific Northwest, salmon are the canary in the climate change coal mine.
The summer of 2015 was a heart-breaking reminder of this long-recognized problem. That summer, I watched thousands of sockeye salmon swimming around in circles, scarred with lesions, waiting to die because they could not continue upstream to cold-water streams to spawn. Roughly 250,000 adult sockeye perished in the lower Columbia and Snake Rivers. Pollution—here, heat pollution—turned back almost entire run of Snake River sockeye salmon.
Climate change is not a future threat or something happening far away. It is impacting our quality of life, economy and local environment right now. The Columbia is just one example, but an important one.
Fortunately, there are things we can do right now to lower the water temperature in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers create large, stagnant pools that warm up the water, but changing the operation of those dams to simulate more natural flows could reduce river temperature. And removing the four lower Snake River dams—which biologists have been recommending since the Clinton administration—could dramatically decrease the temperature of the lower Snake.
This lawsuit, if won, would require Pruitt to make a plan to protect salmon from the twin causes of hot water in the Columbia and Snake Rivers: climate change and dams. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA must protect salmon from pollution, including heat pollution. We're asking a judge to order Pruitt to do his job: Acknowledge the immediate threat of climate change and make a plan to protect salmon.
The plaintiffs are Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. Plaintiffs are represented by: Bryan Hurlbutt, an attorney at Advocates for the West, a public interest nonprofit environmental law firm based in Boise, Idaho; Richard Smith, an attorney at Smith and Lowney PLLC in Seattle; and Miles Johnson, an attorney at Columbia Riverkeeper in Hood River, Oregon.
By Brett VandenHeuvel
Communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel development are taking a stand against dangerous fossil fuel projects. Take a look at the big fight in the small town of Kalama, Washington. The Chinese government is planning to build the world's largest methanol refinery to convert fracked natural gas to liquid methanol for export to China to make plastics.
This four-minute video on the Kalama methanol refinery shows why these residents of this town are fighting and winning:
From a greenhouse gas perspective, this fight is a big deal. The methanol refinery alone would use more natural gas than all industry in Washington combined. Flip it around: If we win this one battle and stop the methanol refinery, we stop the equivalent of doubling industrial natural gas usage in Washington State.
While the gas industry tries to spin natural gas as clean, new science shows just the opposite. The bulk of natural gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane leakage from gas wells and pipelines led scientists to conclude that fracked gas can be as bad coal for our climate. And it gets worse. Gas production in North America relies heavily on fracking, a process famous for polluting air and water, endangering the health of nearby residents.
On the Columbia River, we're no stranger to the fossil fuel industry's pipe dreams. Liquefied natural gas. Coal. Oil-by-rail. Our communities have celebrated major victories. The fossil fuel industry's love affair with the Columbia ignores our region's fierce passion for clean air, salmon and standing up for our neighbors. The coal and oil projects that remain—the nation's largest proposals for coal export and oil-by-rail terminals—face a high-profile movement led by cities, businesses, Tribes, faith leaders, conservationists and others to hold the line on short-sighted, high-impact fossil fuel proposals.
But the Kalama methanol refinery represents a new wave of fossil fuel export. This project would drive demand for massive new pipelines and lock the Pacific Northwest into a half century or more of fracked natural gas consumption, further delaying the transition to cleaner energy alternatives.
Northwest Innovation Works proposed a similar project in Tacoma, Washington, on Puget Sound. Community members and elected officials put the project under the microscope and rejected it. Just days before the company dropped their Tacoma methanol refinery idea (and doubled-down in Kalama) an elected public utilities commissioner told the company to "go away and don't come back" without specific answers to Tacoma's concerns.
Tacoma is a city of 200,000. Kalama is a town of 2,000. The passion to fight the methanol refinery is strong and inspiring in Kalama. But because of its small size, voices must rise from across the Pacific Northwest to stop this behemoth. You can help by signing our petition to Gov. Jay Inslee calling on him to oppose the methanol refinery.